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FSG Sponsored Series

Building Shared Value

Interview: CEO of Japan's Kirin Brewery on Creating Shared Value


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By Meghan Ennes

Kirin Co. faces an interesting challenge when it comes to creating social good. Among the assets in its large food and beverage business are two of Japan’s most popular beers: Kirin Lager and Ichiban Shibori. But how does a company that makes alcoholic beverages also address social needs, like drunk driving accidents, for example? The beginnings to that complicated answer, says President and CEO Yoshinori Isozaki, center around the concept of shared value–which has enabled the company to address the needs of society while still operating under its core business.

In the new series, “Leading Shared Value: Personal Reflections from Global Practitioners,” the Shared Value Initiative will speak with global leaders who are driving shared value strategy within their organizations. Today we interview Isozaki-san, who will also be speaking at the Shared Value Leadership Summit: Investing in Prosperity, May 13-14 in New York.

Shared Value Initiative: What does the success of shared value look like at your company? Tell us your favorite shared value story.

Yoshinori Isozaki: Drunk driving is strictly prohibited by law in Japan. As a company providing alcoholic beverages, we at Kirin believe it is our responsibility to eradicate drunk driving. So we developed the world’s first non-alcoholic beverage that tastes like beer, KIRIN FREE, in 2009.

Unlike other non-alcoholic beers in the world, KIRIN FREE is completely free of alcohol (0.00 percent ABV). Yet, due to our original brewing technology, we have succeeded in retaining the great taste of regular beer. Over the past 20 years, the number of annual accidental deaths in Japan caused by drunk driving decreased dramatically, around 63 percent.

We feel that KIRIN FREE has certainly contributed to this remarkable result. The beverage can also be enjoyed on a daily basis for sports, outdoor activities, lunch meetings, etc.–times when a person might want to taste beer but not feel intoxicated. KIRIN FREE has created more drinking opportunities for people who choose not to drink in a new non-alcoholic market in Japan.

SVI: Why is shared value one of your priorities as the leader of Kirin Co.?

YI: We believe that creating shared value can solve social issues and enhance corporate competitiveness simultaneously by creating value that can be shared with the society. Kirin Group has started its challenge to realize “KV2021,” our long-term business plan towards 2021, by setting shared value in the center of the management concept of Kirin Co. dealing with integrated beverage business in Japan.

SVI: What are the most innovative opportunities that you see for shared value in your region?

YI: A devastating earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, and Kirin has launched the KIZUNA Relief-Support Project, providing 6 billion yen in three years to assist reconstruction of the affected areas. [Kizuna is the Japanese word for “bond.”] One example of our efforts is a launch of ready-to-drink Hyoketsu Wanashi in November 2013. This product uses the juice of pears produced in the Fukushima region, where agricultural products suffer from harmful rumors after the nuclear accident. We intended to introduce it as our shared value product and was highly acclaimed and supported by the customers.

SVI: What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced in adopting shared value?

YI: Our biggest challenge was to commit to shared value by launching a specific division carrying its name when the concept of shared value had not yet permeated in Japanese companies. I met Professor Michael Porter when he was visiting Japan and was encouraged by him in launching the division.

SVI: What does the future look like for Kirin, imagined through a shared value lens?

YI: [The] beverage business covers [a] long value chain from procurement to sales, and there are numerous chances to create values. KIRIN FREE and Hyoketsu Wanashi are good examples of shared value through our products and services. From the value chain perspective, reducing the packaging will decrease environmental load and modal shift will lead to CO2 reduction. As for the community, restoring agricultural and fishery industries through the KIZUNA project, co-existence of beer factory and local community, and other development programs can be expected.

To see Isozaki-san speak at the 2014 Shared Value Leadership Summit, request an invitation

Meghan Ennes is the community coordinator of the Shared Value Initiative. You can learn more about the initiative and join the shared value community of practitioners at sharedvalue.org

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